INTERVIEW: Kyle Baker
Interview Conducted by Ed Mathews
New York, New York, it’s a hellava town… Kyle Baker is from it and we were lucky enough to have met him in the city that never sleeps. Author and illustrator of nine graphic novels including CARTOONIST and CARTOONIST VOL.2, published by Kyle Baker Publishing, YOU ARE HERE, WHY I HATE SATURN, THE COWBOY WALLY SHOW, KING DAVID, I DIE AT MIDNIGHT, UNDERCOVER GENIE, and Plastic Man On The Lam, all published by DC Comics… Kyle Baker made the time to meet with us at PopImage to discuss his most recent work, NAT TURNER, a story which we believe needs to be told.
Issue 1 Cover
Both the stories of KING DAVID and NAT TURNER are epic, tragic, and historical. What inspired you to pursue these tales in graphic novel format?
Both biographies have all the elements that make a good story. Guys from extremely humble beginnings who go on to become great and powerful men despite impossible odds. Lots of action, chasing and fighting, which all of the best comics need. Romance. Great, all-powerful, unbeatable Villains.
Interesting visual elements, lots of outdoor scenes. I wouldn't adapt the Book Of Job, for example, because it's mostly talking. Nothing to draw. Nat Turner's got guys chopping each other's heads off and people being eaten by sharks. That's good comics!
Issue 1, Page 1
What was so compelling about NAT TURNER that you are willing to self-publish the book?
Slavery is a situation where one guy does all the work and somebody else gets all the money.
When creating a book denouncing slavery, it's kind of important that the guy who writes, draws, letters, colours and designs the book get most of the money. Any other situation would kind of render the book's argument moot.
The political cartoon has been one of the most feared and respected tools in the political arena, probably for time eternal, but at very least since the days of Thomas Nast's cartoons about Boss Tweed in NYC.
When all is said and done, will Nat Turner be done in a docu-drama format or will it have that political edge that it logically can have?
It's a Holocaust book. It begins with Turner's mother being kidnapped from Africa, being shaved and branded, stuffed in a feces and rat filled ship's hold, being chained and sold into slavery. Young Nat's father runs away from the plantation when he's a little boy, which is devastating to him. As an adult, Nat's beloved wife and children are sold and taken from him screaming. Finally, he has an inspiration. Nat organizes an armed slave revolt and a lot of people get killed in big action scenes. Nat eludes the authorities successfully for months, but is finally captured, hanged and skinned. And somewhere in there will be heads on pikes and slaves being raped by their masters.
Issue 1, Page 2
To answer your question, I'm not sure if there's room for a political edge. Politics are hard to draw. Babies being thrown to hungry sharks by their own mothers from slave ships is something visual and human, not political.
Both King David and Nat Turner have their roots in the bible in the sense that Turner felt he was inspired by the bible and was receiving messages from God. Are there other historical figures that you're interested in tackling? Will there be KYLE BAKER'S JOAN OF ARC or some similar tale?
Issue 1, Page 3
G. B. Shaw did a fantastic job with Joan. Is that thing Public Domain yet? Shaw rocks.
To answer the question; I'm not sure. The stories I like to adapt are the ones that have all the elements I mentioned before. Also, stories that haven't been done a zillion times. Part of the appeal of NAT TURNER, say, is the fact that there hasn't been a Denzel Washington movie, so the material will be fresh to many readers. There hasn't really been a big successful Pop visual adaptation of the David story since that "David and Bathsheba" movie back in the 50s. Richard Gere made a bad David movie nobody saw. So my David comic seemed fresh.
I'm always reading books, though, and I may encounter another story that grabs me like David and Turner. I'd like to try other Bible stories.
Will Nat Turner be targeted for the college crowd specifically or will this be a story that can be shared with an all-ages audience?
We've talked in the past about the importance of all-ages books for the medium of comics, especially with PLASTIC MAN, and if NAT TURNER is targeted toward a more mature audience, would you consider doing a version of these tales that can be handed to a ten year old?
Issue 1, Page 4
Good question. I read Alex Haley's "ROOTS" when I was very young, and saw the TV series. It really depends on what people feel was appropriate for their child. I was reading EC's Tales From The Crypt by age 10. Some parents may think the Black Holocaust is an inappropriate topic for young folks.
Maybe things are different today from when I was a child. When I was a child, neighborhood gangs and drug dealers were recruiting Black children, and most Black male teens went to jail. That's why my mom felt it was important that I learn what was what, so I could go to college and make some money while my peers have fallen in the crack wars. Maybe parents today have different concerns, since things have gotten so much better.
Some parents may be looking for a way to talk to their kids about topics like the Black Holocaust, too. If more people read up on the details of that era,
they'd have a better understanding of the level of evil that people can commit on a grand scale when you dehumanize others. Will this be in a book format, or are you going to use the traditional comic industry economic model of publishing single issues and then collecting the book for a wider audience?
Issue 1, Attack Detail
We're publishing single issues first, and then collecting it in hardcover, then paperback about six months later.
Returning to the theme of all-ages books, what has been your experience with PLASTIC MAN? It is a very well made book that I have no problems handing to my younger cousins for fear of being yelled at by my aunts, by the way. Did people question your all-ages approach? Better yet, if they did, isn't the better question why aren't there more books in the superhero genre that are all-ages?
I just got a royalty statement for the collected edition. I was initially disappointed until I realized that I'm still DC's best selling all-ages book. My book's more popular than Scooby-Doo!
What's funny is how many negative comments I hear from idiots who haven't figured out that it's a kid's book. These are the same geniuses who don't understand that at the end of the day DC Superheroes are kiddie properties. That's why there are so many Superman pajamas at K-Mart. You'll never see an R-Rated Batman movie, because that would be financial suicide.
Issue 1, Page 6
My 6-year-old daughter and I like to flip through the current comics and laugh at how there's no fight. We just saw a JLA comic that was literally 21 pages of Superheroes talking! Nobody used their super powers once! Martian Manhunter finally loses his temper on one page, and grabs a guy's neck, but then he decides not to strangle him, and then the JLA decide to talk some more. News Flash: Kids Can't Read Yet. They need visuals. Wonder Woman flying in her glass plane and stopping bullets with her wrists. That's the stuff they like.
Maybe I'm too demanding, but when I see a comic book about a guy named Green Arrow dressed like Robin Hood, I expect to see him SHOOT SOME ARROWS! If the book is called Superman, I want to see him do something super! How come superheroes are always crying? Sitting around talking and crying and never fighting crime, because they're too complex and conflicted? Plastic Man is about a guy who turns into things and fights crime with his super powers. It's a DC Comic for kids. Like the ones that got us all interested in comic books in the first place.
The problem is smart children don't have as much money as grown idiots, so we make the books for grown idiots who want to read about crying Martians who talk a lot.
For more on the Harvey and Eisner award winner Kyle Baker, be sure to visit Kyle Baker.com. for more news, artwork and animation, including the classic BREAK THE CHAIN music video with KRS-ONE which Kyle Directed and the ever creepy Tom Hanks Experience!
Ed Mathews is Co-Editor in Chief of PopImage.com
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